I was giving my boys a bath. Silas is 5 and Quinn turns 4 today, and already they are catching on to me.
Now, I’m not the normal bath-giver. My wife usually has that job, mostly because the boys insist that she do it, along with just about everything else they need. Around our house, it seems Daddy is for fun and for discipline. Mommy is for nurturing and, apparently, trust.
The boys were sitting in the water, surrounded by a flotilla of assorted bath toys ranging from great white sharks to plastic garden pails, when Silas started playing with one of their favorites — an old shampoo bottle. They like to suck the bath water up into it and then blast each other in the face. It’s a game that never seems to get old to them. For the innocent bystander just trying to get the little heathens clean, though, it gets pretty annoying pretty quickly.
At one point in the game, Silas made some sort of outlandish claim about the contents of the bottle. I forget exactly what he was claiming, but it was something only a 5-year-old’s brain could dream up.
As I wrestled his brother through a scrubbing, I nonchalantly told him he was wrong, that it was only water.
“Nuh-uh,” he retorted. “Mommy told me so.”
I was not in the mood for a protracted debate, some of which have been known to last days around our house, so I tried to cut it off quickly.
“You ever think your mommy fibs to you?” I queried.
“No!” Silas shot back in a tone suggesting he might challenge me to a light saber duel if I besmirched his beloved mother’s word of honor.
“You believe everything she says?” I asked.
“We trust her,” Silas insisted.
Now, here I am, telling the kid how it is. It’s ridiculous to believe the bottle is full of lava or acid or whatever he was claiming. And to complicate the matter, his mother probably didn’t even tell him there was anything in the bottle other than water. But that was beside the point. Now it was an issue of him taking his mom’s word over mine.
“You don’t trust Daddy?” I asked.
“We trust you, Daddy,” Silas assured me. “A little bit.”
Quinn’s soapy blond curls nodded in agreement.
And there it was. Mommy would win a credibility contest with Jesus if Silas and Quinn were the judges. With me, the rule is trust, but verify.
Maybe the story I had told them at the zoo on Mother’s Day was still fresh in their minds. We were watching the sea lions, and at the bottom of the pool lay a bright red sweatshirt someone had dropped. The boys were asking me what it was.
“That’s where a little boy fell in and the sea lions ate him,” I explained. “That’s all that’s left.”
Of course, their mother assured them I was lying.
I can’t explain why I come up with these tales. They just come as natural as a reflex. My dad did it to me. Your dad probably did it to you. It wasn’t but a few minutes after I told my sea lion-eating story that another dad happened along with his little girl, who asked the same question as my boys about the red sweatshirt. His story was the same as mine.
It’s just something that dads do.
But apparently, my boys are starting to catch on. They are getting older. I might have to step up my game.
This column originally published Sunday, May 26, 2013